Skip to main content

The Best Homemade Mexican Salsa Recipe

Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."

Homemade Mexican Salsa

Homemade Mexican Salsa

Authentic Restaurant-Style Salsa Made From Fresh or Canned Tomatoes

Streetlights flickered across the dusty lanes of La Yarada as Gloria flipped tortillas over a fiery comal, which she inherited from her grandmother. Ice cubes clinked inside a cocktail shaker as Joshua sloshed a tequila, amaretto and lime concoction into salted margarita glasses.

Joshua and Gloria, expats living in Peru, still have a powerful connection with Mexico. Gloria was born in the United States to parents of Mexican descent and prepares family recipes passed down from generation to generation.

Before meeting Gloria, I assumed that salsa or picante sauce would be too difficult and time-consuming to prepare at home. How wrong I was! I'm forever grateful to her for generously sharing this family recipe with us, and thus with all of you.

Gloria's addictive salsa showcases the simple textures and flavors of the region: pungent garlic, earthy cilantro, spicy chili and sweet tomato, all of which adds up to a complex, beautifully balanced sauce. This salsa can be made winter or summer, with either fresh or canned tomatoes. We must warn, though, that it comes with a disclaimer: once you’ve tasted authentic Mexican salsa there’s no going back. The fresh flavor will linger in your memory even longer than it lingers on your tongue. After you see how quickly and easily it comes together, you’ll never again buy flavorless jarred salsa!


Tips for Preparing the Perfect Salsa

  • Flash sauté diced onion and garlic for only 10 seconds. If you sauté it much longer, the onion will become too sweet and alter the salsa’s flavor.
  • Very ripe Roma or any meaty tomato is the best choice for cooking.
  • Why cook the salsa? Simmering blends the flavors and evaporates liquids, so you won't have a watery mess which is the bane of blended, uncooked salsas.
  • You can choose either fresh or canned tomatoes for this recipe. If using canned, skip to "step 3" of the instructions section.
  • If fresh tomatoes are ripe but still firm try The Best Authentic Pico de Gallo, a delicious fresh salsa recipe.
  • Cilantro is also called Chinese parsley or coriander.
  • For spicy salsa, use a ratio of one hot pepper to three large tomatoes. Rocoto is the chile of choice in Peru, but use any chile available in your area. Add more hot peppers or a pepper higher on the Scoville scale for more heat.
  • For mild salsa try hot peppers lower on the Scoville scale, such as poblano or even bell pepper. Remove all veins and seeds. Offer pickled serrano peppers to guests who enjoy fiery salsa. Buy an authentic brand such as Herdez.
  • For low sodium salsa, omit the salt. Use fresh or low sodium canned tomatoes. Add cumin, extra garlic and cilantro to amp up the flavor. Finish cooled salsa with fresh lemon or lime juice to taste.
  • Fire-roast the chiles for smoky salsa, or try Smoke Seasoning Blend pictured in the "serving ideas" section at the bottom of this page.
  • Add a pinch of sugar or a dollop of tomato paste for sweet and thick salsa.
  • Enjoy chilled or warm salsa with chips. Serve warm salsa over hot food.
  • If you prefer smooth salsa, blend sauteed onion and garlic with tomatoes before simmering.
  • Cumin is optional in authentic Mexican salsa. Try the cumin for delicious Tex-Mex flavor.
  • If the fresh tomatoes are very juicy, you may need a slightly longer simmer time to thicken up the salsa.

Gloria's Authentic Salsa

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

10 min

15 min

25 min

Serves 6

This recipe makes about 3 cups of homemade salsa. Store salsa in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a week or store in the freezer for up to one year.


  • 6–8 large Roma tomatoes (2 lbs/1 kilo) OR 2 14.5-ounce cans whole tomatoes, drained
  • 2 small or 1 medium onion(s), diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 2–3 hot peppers (see tips), seeded and halved
  • 1/2 to 1 cup (a handful or two) fresh cilantro leaves, to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, optional
  • juice of one lemon or lime, optional


  1. If using canned tomatoes, skip to step 3. If you have fresh tomatoes, add 1/2 an inch of water to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Core and halve tomatoes and set them, cut side up, in the skillet.
  2. While you dice the onions, simmer tomatoes until water evaporates and tomatoes start to soften. Peel and discard any skins that have loosened during steaming.
  3. Toss tomatoes, hot peppers and cilantro into a blender container. Blend until smooth.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and garlic in hot oil for about 10 seconds; just a flash in the pan.
  5. Add blended tomato mixture to the skillet with the onions and garlic and give it a stir.
  6. Season with salt and ground pepper to taste. Add cumin if desired.
  7. Simmer on medium-low for about 15 minutes, or until salsa has reduced and thickened. You may need to increase cook time if tomatoes are very juicy.
  8. You can add the juice of a fresh lime or lemon at this point, although it's not necessary and will temper the salsa's spiciness.
  9. Serve with tortilla chips, enchiladas, tacos, scrambled eggs, quesadillas, etc.

Servings Suggestions

  • Serve Gloria's salsa and Authentic Guacamole with Homemade Tortilla Chips for a light appetizer.
  • Spoon warm salsa over scrambled eggs or an omelette for breakfast.
  • Salsa makes a healthy dip for raw veggies such as cauliflower, carrot sticks, celery, cucumber slices, etc.
  • Pour salsa over beans and rice for authentic flavor.
  • Stir a teaspoon of sour cream, yogurt or cream cheese into salsa for a quick and tasty salad dressing.
  • Top a baked potato with spicy homemade salsa for a quick, low-calorie lunch.
  • Treat your family to a restaurant-style experience by heating tortilla chips in a 350 F oven until warm. Sprinkle with lime salt and serve with homemade salsa.
  • Make homemade lime salt by grating a little lime zest (preferably with a microplaner) into a pile of salt.
  • Serve warm salsa with enchiladas, tacos, burritos or other typical Mexican fare such as Healthy Grilled Tostadas.
  • An icy, Texan Margarita cocktail is the perfect complement for salsa and chips.
  • Or try a Frosty Pisco Sour cocktail for an exotic Peruvian touch.
  • Learn How to Make the Best Limeade for a great non-alcoholic beverage choice.

Rate This Recipe

Questions & Answers

Question: Can this salsa recipe be canned?

Answer: Recipes for canning have a specific acidity. This recipe has not been tested for canning.

Question: Why do you cook the salsa for 15 minutes? Couldn't you just put it in the refrigerator and let the ingredients marry without cooking them?

Answer: Uncooked is another type of salsa that is also delicious. Cooking breaks down the ingredients, evaporates the liquid and concentrates the flavors in this recipe. You can store any leftovers in the refrigerator and the marriage of flavors makes it even more delicious the next day. I hope you have the chance to try this delicious cooked salsa!

Question: Why is oregano not used in your salsa recipe?

Answer: Oregano has not been tested in this salsa recipe, but please feel free to use it if you like.